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U.S. Philippines wrap up annual Balikatan exercise

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The U.S. and Philippines wrapped up a joint military exercise Friday after 10 days of combat and disaster-relief training, according to the U.S. Embassy in Manila.

The annual Balikatan exercise included countering roadside bombs, explosive-ordnance disposal and trauma care. Servicemembers also gave medical care to about 8,000 people, constructed new buildings at several Philippine schools and provided veterinary care for thousands of animals, the embassy said.

The exercise has been a cornerstone of the U.S.-Philippine military alliance since the United States closed its sprawling Cold War-era bases and pulled out of the country in 1991.

This year, the event was overshadowed by a natural and nuclear disaster in Japan that underscored the need for such joint disaster training and also diverted U.S. military forces that had planned to participate, including the USS Essex amphibious ready group and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.

“You should all be proud knowing that the next time an earthquake reduces a town to rubble or a volcano blankets everything in ashes for miles around, you will be there to provide immediate relief and longer-term recovery assistance,” U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Leslie Bassett said Friday during Balikatan closing ceremonies in Manila, according to the embassy release.

The Philippines is prone to typhoons, landslides and earthquakes. At the opening of the exercise earlier this month, U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas Jr. said the training will prepare the armed forces for such events in the future.

Meanwhile, the two nations conducted the largest combat field training exercises ever during this year’s Balikatan, the embassy said.

Teams trained on how to deal with improvised explosive devices, defuse and dispose of bombs, conduct live-fire operations in a convoy, evacuate casualties and perform trauma care.

The appearance of roadside bombs has complicated the fight against al-Qaida-linked, Islamic separatist guerrillas in the southern Philippines, where U.S. Special Forces advise the Philippine military in a decades old insurgency.

Two U.S. soldiers and a Philippine marine were killed in September 2009 when an IED sheared their Humvee in half in Jolo. Officials said the bomb technology has leached into the southern Philippines from Iraq and Afghanistan.

trittent@pstripes.osd.mil

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